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Pearls of Wisdom From a Class Act of the White House Press Corps

May 23, 2000|PATT DIROLL SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Most of us have our heroes. One of mine has always been Helen Thomas, dean of the White House press corps, right up there with Nellie Bly and Brenda Starr. Bigger than life. It was a thrill to finally meet the feisty reporter, who was the special guest at a luncheon hosted by supporters of the Music Center and PBS station KCET.

(Club 100 of the Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County and KCET Women's Council sponsored the May 12 luncheon. KCET's Val Zavala emceed; Diane Dykema and Adria Cowitt co-chaired.)

Little did any of us suspect that the woman famous for her "Thank you, Mr. President" at White House press conferences would say, "No, thank you" to her new landlord at United Press International, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, and close her notebook for good four days later.

Thomas mesmerized the Skirball Cultural Center's sold-out audience with recollections of 57 years with UPI--40 of them on the White House beat.

"There's never been a president who hasn't stumbled on the way to the Forum," said Thomas, "but once there, they should do the right thing. The Oval Office is hallowed ground. If you aspire to the highest office, then decide at age 5 and live accordingly!"

Which president, asked an audience member, had the most credibility? "None," she said with a smile.

Asked to guess who the next occupant of the White House will be, she replied: "May the best woman win."

*

Last Thursday, as Henry Alfaro accepted a special award for community service from the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts, he reminisced about his wayward youth. He recalled growing up in Lincoln Heights and noted that the BFA's theater occupies the building that used to be the local jail.

"I gave my parents a lot of problems," said Alfaro, an award-winning newsman. "I was a gang leader and [was] often stopped by the police and interrogated at the jail. Then I'd have to walk the three miles back home through Clover and Dogtown. That's when I decided I didn't want to do that anymore. And now here I am, being honored by the folks who occupy Lincoln Heights Jail!"

The five members of the East L.A. band Los Lobos received the El Angel Artist Award, presented by last year's winner, mezzo soprano Suzanna Guzman of the L.A. Opera. The legendary musicians, who crafted their own brand of Mexican-American music in the early '70s while attending Garfield High School, are now revered as the elder statesmen of Chicano rock.

Channel 7 reporter Maggie Rodriguez emceed the event for the BFA, which promotes bilingual theater, at the Regal Biltmore Hotel. Other honorees included educators Jose Ramon Araluce Cuenca of USC and Susana Hernandez Araico of Cal Poly Pomona; actress Lupe Ontiveros; Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A.; and Union Pacific Railroad.

Disney exec T.J. Baptiechaired with help from Rudy Beserra, Richard Hartnack and Bel Hernandez. Nydia Rojas and Mariachi Sol de Mexico de Jose Hernandez provided the entertainment. As usual, the evening ended with a rambunctious conga line, a tradition begun 20 years ago by BFA founders Carmen Zapata, Margarita Galban and Estela Scarlata.

*

After the last soupcon of chocolate mousse and Dolce wine, came the requisite rhetoric on medical research by staffers of UCLA's Jonsson Cancer Center at Saturday's benefit.

The speeches, however, paled in comparison with the eloquent simplicity of Jon Kasdan, diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease three years ago at the end of his junior year in high school. "It sucked, getting cancer" said Kasdan, whose parents are Meg and LawrenceKasdan, the filmmaker. "I experienced physical pain and emotional agony. But my parents had to deal with the most acute of all agonies, watching their child in pain and not being able to stop it. With every ounce of energy, they created a womb of safety from which I was nursed back to health. They're the real heroes."

There wasn't a dry eye in the crowd.

Nearly 300 guests paid $1,000 each to attend the lavish bash at Dennis Tito's magnificent aerie in the Pacific Palisades, which was co-chaired by Julie Loshin and Barbara Fairchild and emceed by martial artist-actor Steven Seagal.

Each year at the Jonsson foundation's "Epicurean Evening," a stellar cast of master chefs creates the menu. This year, it was Silvio De Mori and Jean-Pierre Bosc of Mimosa and Cafe des Artistes in L.A.; Michael Mina of San Francisco's Aqua; Michael McCarty and Andrew Pastore of Michael's in Santa Monica; Charlie Trotter of Chicago; Francis Payard of Payard Patisserie & Bistro in New York; Nancy Silverton of L.A.'s La Brea. Oakville's Far Niente provided wines.

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